Friday, December 08, 2006

I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now

Christina Aguilera's beautiful-looking video for "Hurt" is a melodramatic affair full of high emotion and powerful storytelling...

VIDEO: "Hurt" directed by Floria Sigismondi and Christina Aguilera

Everyone's life is chaos, but celebrity life is intentional controlled chaos, a circus.

It's a tent waiting to collapse under any gust of wind; a freak show with a million eyes in the audience. When you're entire career hinges on the love of people whom you don't know, how do you stay connected with those you do?

Yet that's precisely the tightrope walk that we love to watch. We cringe at the personal mistakes of drunken stars out on the town, and yet celebrate their marriages like they where family. We rarely consider celebrities as "real" people, or think about the fact that they where once little girls and boys being raised by un-famous parents mostly in ho-hum modest towns.

Thus is the appeal of the circus for the performer herself, the dream of becoming this larger than life figure who walks on air above - someone who literally escapes reality under the flashbulbs and wide-eyed smiles of an adoring (or hateful) public. But the dilemma is that Christina Aguilera and her character in this video still exist in a real world, and we all know that in the real world all those circus tricks are fake.

Aguilera has made a series of videos (not to mention an entire album) that are dedicated to referencing and reviving historic forms/genres of music and film. This video creates it's sense of enchantment by opening in the black and white newsreel footage of yesteryear, with a traditionally folky ringleader hyping his mundanely amazing performers (all circus's are the same!) over some vaguely old-school foreign music. Yet he doesn't just introduce the tightrope walker, he also mentions a sword-swallower, who in many ways epitomizes the idea of sacrifice for the sake of entertainment.

It's a gorgeously shot and designed video, using everything from soft smoky lighting to Aguilera's Gene Harlow look (which she plays very well) to create a sense of time and place. The sped-up editing and cutting techniques are odes to silent and early sound pictures. There are subtle touches that establish mood as well; like the opening of the "Telegram" that cuts to a shot of Aguilera sitting amongst fallen stars in a stream of light, or the Titanic-esque spinning confusion of her confrontation with her father's death. An entire metaphorical celebrity world is created that is at once timeless, surreal, as well as strikingly poignant. We begin to actually feel bad for the struggle of entertainers.

Yet this isn't just a video aimed at creating pity for Aguilera or her celebrity colleagues, we know that her lifestyle is much different than ours, but we also are reminded here that everyone has parents with whom they are either close or disconnected from. Images of a young girl and her father at the circus and then at home practicing for the future are universally affecting. Whether we never knew them, or they call us everyday, it is rare for a young person to constantly think of their parents. Most of us are too busy dreaming about walking in the clouds to remember who taught us to walk in the first place.

It's often viewed as a sacrifice we have to make, to let go of our familial attachment in order to strive for some amount of personal success. Can we blame Aguilera in this video for becoming enthralled in her fame, loving the atmosphere of the clowns and the jugglers when it is what she has dreamed of since childhood? But what is truly sad is that her father had the same dreams, he was right there with her pushing her towards that goal till the very end.

Most of all it's the pride in his silver-grey eyes and then the subsequent disappointment of being forgotten standing alone in the tent in his dull brown suit (because we of course feel more sympathy for a poor dad than just a mistreated dad). And as Aguilera sings her heart out in the tent, now in a tighter frame (the camera moves closer and closer as the video progresses and gets more emotional - until the final extreme close-up of her crying), she speaks about all the regrets she has that she was never able to convey while he was alive.

Yet Christina knows that it's "dangerous to try and turn back time," and in the brilliant climactic shot in which she spins and spins until she has fallen completely into darkness, we can see where grief and guilt can take us. There's also the implication (through the use of flashbacks and different looks for Christina) that this death happened far before we find Aguilera sitting alone and singing the story in that tent, and that she is yet to overcome it because of the immense amount of guilt she feels in neglecting her father.

There's a fine line between neglecting and idealizing parents, and most of us fail to toe it properly. On the one hand we should call our parents right now (if they are alive and we know who they are) and tell them how much we appreciate them, yet we fear their judgment and see them as the ultimate measure of our worth and on the other hand we blame them for the parts of ourselves we don't really like, or those really horrible times in childhood and adolescence when we felt forgotten. But they are human beings who are understanding and caring - people who, just like us, have the capacity for forgiveness and for making mistakes. Rather than constantly putting people up on some high pedestal, we could create stronger connections if we kept both ourselves and our perceptions of others grounded in the reality of our bonds.

In our constant struggle to impress those we love, we often forget to actually love them.

Buy it at Insound!

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Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie